Back on the Chain Gang

It took just one week shy of four months for things to return to normal.  10:55 PM on August eleventh, to be precise. I realized I was tired and that it was time for bed, but this night it hit me, like it hasn’t hit me since April seventh.

I was bored.

In the time right after my heart bypass surgery to sometime recently, I had no time or inclination for boredom.  I’d almost died, and after I came out of the experience still alive, I was so grateful for everything. I experienced a heightened sense of awareness, an awareness of how beautiful and miraculous each moment of every day is.

I knew it couldn’t last. I knew that someday I’d return to the same old routines, and get lost again in the day to day. It’s always been inevitable. But it seems too soon.

As the incisions in my chest and legs heal, the memories of the experience start to fade. Now when I recall events, there is a distance to them.  The details of my hospital room, of what it felt like to have a drainage hose installed in the bottom of my chest, of how difficult it was to move the bubble in the breathing apparatus I was measured against, the faces of the nurses who looked after me. They’re all fading, faster than I thought they would.

It’s not that I want to dwell on things. I’m eager to get on with the rest of my life. This is precisely the problem. If my memories are being extinguished so quickly, how can I learn from them? How can I avoid making the same mistakes? Most importantly, how can I put the dark glasses of indifference on again when so much was revealed to me? How can I face death without the appreciation of the miracle that living is?

Death is a powerful and intimate force. In its presence, in those moments when it’s close to us, when we can feel the grip of its icy fingers on our shoulders, defenses kick in and we become simultaneously aware of life’s frailty and strength. The morning before my surgery, after my stress test, when I was in ICU, my heart was pounding so hard that it felt like it was going to burst through my chest, and it beat so fast that I knew it couldn’t maintain such a pace for much longer. It was life, it was MY life I felt hammering in my chest, and if it gave out and stopped, so too would I stop, and with me the world would end. Everything I’ve ever known or felt or been, it was all one instance from being obliterated.

And that’s the thing – as brutally imposing and intimidating a force as death is, life, with its ability to look death in the eye and shrug off its threats and become bored and self-absorbed, is every bit death’s match.

The challenge is to balance life’s treasures against death’s inevitability. We need to listen to what they, life and death, are trying to tell us.  Boredom is life’s way of countering the fear of death, of minimizing death’s impact, of mitigating the fact that in the end, death will triumph. Boredom is life flipping a middle finger at death.

In the end, there is one force stronger than either life or death.  Time makes chumps of them both. And, I guess that neither life nor death would really give a crap about boredom if it weren’t for time.

I’ve got music playing, and suddenly I hear it, Chrissie Hynde singing “Back on the Chain Gang:” 

But I’ll die as I stand here today, / knowing that deep in my heart / they’ll fall to ruin one day / for making us part

When Chrissie Hynde sings, even life, death and time are compelled to stop and listen.

2 thoughts on “Back on the Chain Gang

  1. So powerfully and personally written. You gave us a bedside view of what happens after recovery. I would suggest that boredom isn’t there to dull the fear of death. You have just successfully conquered life and are going on with an added deeper experience of living. Maybe the boredom inhibits the excitement of going on to live ever more alive than you’ve been aware of, maybe it is a little scary to know you can be even more alive.

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